About Ranked Choice Voting

What is Ranked Choice Voting?

Ranked Choice Voting is a commonsense change that would give voters the choice to rank candidates for office in the order they prefer them. This simple change will give Massachusetts voters a stronger voice when we cast our ballots, and guarantee that our elected leaders are supported by a true majority.

Ranked Choice Voting will give voters more choice in our elections by letting them pick who they like best, without worrying about “spoilers” if they don’t choose a front-runner. It will open up the process to more candidates from outside the system, by giving all candidates a chance to compete and win. This promotes diversity of political viewpoints and creates more opportunities for women and people of color to run for office.

Ranked Choice Voting is an important step to empower and re-energize Massachusetts voters at a critical time in our democracy.

How does Ranked Choice Voting work?

With Ranked Choice Voting, voters still only cast one ballot, but when there are three or more candidates for an office, voters are given the option to rank candidates on their ballot in the order they prefer them: first, second, third, etc. If one candidate receives a majority of the first-choice votes on Election Night, that candidate wins.

If no candidate receives a majority of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the votes they received count instantly towards the next choice on each voter’s ballot.

That process repeats until a candidate receives a majority of the vote and wins.

Where else is Ranked Choice Voting used?

Maine recently voted to approve Ranked Choice Voting via a ballot question. It was used successfully in the 2018 elections and will be used again next year. In addition, Ranked Choice Voting is used in some capacity in 25 states.

In Maine, Ranked Choice Voting is working the way it’s supposed to. In the first statewide election to use Ranked Choice Voting, almost 90% of voters who cast ballots ranked multiple candidates, and counting ballots went smoothly. In one close congressional race, Ranked Choice Voting ensured that the winner had the support of a majority of voters.

Benefits of Ranked Choice Voting

Ensures Majority Support

by eliminating the “spoiler effect” to elect a candidate who appeals to a broad base of voters. In our current system, candidates can win election despite being the last choice of most voters. Ranked Choice Voting guarantees the election of majority winners, whose support extends beyond a narrow base. RCV uses a series of “instant runoffs” to find a winner with a majority of votes in the final round (see our How RCV is Counted page for more details).

Minimizes Strategic Voting

by encouraging voters to choose their true favorite, without settling for the “lesser of two evils.” In our current system, if your favorite candidate is unlikely to win, what should you do? Some urge you to cast a “safe” vote for one of the front-runners, to avoid electing the one you like least. Others urge you to stick to your principles and vote for your favorite candidate — period. Voters shouldn’t be forced to take sides in this lose-lose dilemma. Ranked Choice Voting lets more voters vote for candidates they support, not just against the ones they oppose.

Promotes Diverse Candidates

by encouraging more candidates to run for office without fear of vote-splitting. In our current system, many candidates are pressured to drop out, shamed as “spoilers,” and excluded from public debates. Ranked Choice Voting welcomes all candidates into the race, and sometimes simply deciding to run is all that stands in the way of winning. A study of four Bay Area cities with Ranked Choice Voting found women and people of color are running and winning office more often than they are in cities without RCV. In multi-winner contests, especially, Ranked Choice Voting truly represents all perspectives, each in proportion to its voter support.

Curbs Negative Campaigning

by rewarding candidates who reach beyond their base to find common ground with more voters. Voters are tired of toxic campaign rhetoric and mud-slinging. With Ranked Choice Voting, candidates do best when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible, including those supporting their opponents. While candidates must still differentiate themselves to earn 1st-choice support, a campaign that emphasizes negative attacks over positive ideas may lose the crucial 2nd and 3rd choices needed to win. Comprehensive polling that compared cities with RCV to those without found that voters in RCV cities experienced campaign messages that were more positive and constructive.

Strengthens Party Unity

by tempering intra-party tensions during contested primaries and choosing nominees with a mandate from party voters. By allowing voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference, Ranked Choice Voting helps consolidate rather than divide competing party factions. The incentive to positively campaign under RCV means fewer rifts between party members after a hotly contested primary, and the requirement that winners demonstrate a majority of support under RCV will give nominees the mandate they need to rally party members behind them. It helps every party put their best foot forward heading into the general election.

Saves Money and Boosts Turnout

by eliminating the need for costly, low-turnout preliminary elections for city office. Most cities in Massachusetts use a runoff-like process in which a “preliminary” election narrows down the field of candidates before the general election. Preliminary elections are expensive to run, draw anemic turnout, still allow vote-splitting, and are a hassle for all involved. Ranked Choice Voting conducts runoffs instantly from a single ballot, so preliminary elections become unnecessary, saving cities money and concentrating voter participation into a single higher-turnout election.

Want to get an overview of RCV and our movement? We recommend inviting someone from our speaker’s bureau for a short presentation and Q&A. Click here to request an RCV presentation.